John G Bell & Robin Fenske


Spring '03 - Hill

In the Cultural Creatives, there are three concurrent societal models. The book examines one of these and contrasts it to the others without fully examining all of them or asking questions about them outside a narrow historical context. The Cultural Creatives are presented as the solution to the the conflict between the preexisting subcultures.

There are questions which are an order of magnitude greater than the fermentation of the Cultural Creatives. If we believe that the Cultural Creatives are new, or the solution some current social upheaval, then we are only perpetuating a conflict that is at least as old as civilization itself.

  1. Three Cultures

The idea in the Cultural Creatives book, and class dialogue about the book, is that the Cultural Creatives act as creative tension between the ideal, progressive, society and the mainstream society, held back by the opposite tension of the traditionalists. However, not just one but each of these three cultures has ideals to which they aspire. Each culture has creative tension which is in conflict with the other culture, and to claim that the success of one culture in transforming the other is an ultimate goal is to ignore the validity of the other cultural ideals. There is a region of validity for the world view of all three cultures even though the book fails to show them.

It is possible to recognize that each culture has ideals and a valid world view and still find them in conflict. This inevitable conflict from diversity can be unbalanced over time as one or another culture dominates a given historical period. A systemic ideal would be to maintain the cultures in a kind of equilibrium, a creative tension that neither over nor under values each culture.

It is important, however, that the appearance of imbalance not be taken for real imbalance. The detail complexity of the relationships between cultures may hide the dynamic complexity of each culture's place in the system due to a process of selective attention or simply not recognizing the function of each culture in systems of power. There are complex power relationships that may be missed. In mediation training, we learned that apparent power imbalances, such as clients being silent, can mask the functioning but unsurfaced power dynamics of relationships.

The way that the book looks at Cultural Creatives is selective because it mistakes this as a new phenomena. The apparent evidence of fermentation of this new culture is so present because that evidence has existed, unsurfaced. Cultural Creatives have existed in varying levels of creative tension with Modern/Enterprise culture, which appears to currently be dominant.

  1. Tell me more ...

The book Cultural Creatives posits three cultures. There's the Moderns, which act as the mainstream, acting to promote individual accomplishment and freedoms, commercialized urban-industrialism. There's the Traditionalist, which are pulling toward an imagined past metanoia, “looking for ways of life that are comforting and familiar repetitions of their youth.” [CC p32] The final subculture, the Cultural Creatives, attempt to pull the mainstream toward a more interdependent, connecting model, “an experiential, authentic and holistic style.” [CC p34]

There's tension between the atomistic/mosaic and holistic/hermetic. There's also tension between rigorous/empirical and speculative/faith based views of the world. [Laszlo p16] This positions the Moderns as rigorously atomistic, the Traditionals as speculatively atomistic and the Cultural Creatives as rigorously holistic. There's a unfilled spot in this pattern: the speculatively holistic world view.

  1. Historical References to Cultures

    1. The Values of Belonging

The Values of Belonging suggests that the pre-industrial importance of “balance, ... generosity, egalitarianism, mutuality, affinity for alternative modes of knowing, ... inclusiveness, non-violent conflict resolution”[Flinders p71] previously existed and have been maintained by feminine culture and religions. This points to a commonality between the values held by Cultural Creatives and the unfilled speculatively holistic culture.

Both the Cultural Creatives and the speculatively holistic originate in the Culture of Belonging, but have split along the empirical/speculative horizon.

This makes a big distinction to how Cultural Creatives defines the culture of the Traditionals. There is a split between the religiousness of Belonging and the religiousness of Enterprise. There's a movement toward the kind of religion that innovated authoritarian hierarchy [Senge] and a kind of “spirituality of belonging.” This split between the Traditionals and what we will call the Companions is along the Enterprise/Belonging, or atomistic/holistic, horizon.

With the rise of agriculture the Culture of Belonging split into a religious subculture, the Companions, and a secular subculture, the Cultural Creatives. The Culture of Enterprise also split into a religious subculture, the Traditionalist, and a secular subculture, the Moderns. Cultural Creatives believes that the American Traditionalist started “pulling back” some time before the American Revolution, although the split between Moderns and Traditionals has been present since well before the American Revolution, perhaps even contemporaneously with the rise of agriculture.

    1. System Personality

“The large groups we thus come to know appear to establish their own 'personalities.' Even if most of their individual members change, the groups' characteristics tend to be preserved.” [Laszlo p5]

“This is true for entire communities and nations – even entities as large and nebulous as cultures. Individuals come and go; they remain. It is not that they are immune to change themselves, but they do not change with the changes in their membership. It is as though they had a life and personality of their own.” [Laszlo p5]

Even as the membership of the Cultural Creatives change, as their agenda is adopted by the mainstream culture, the personality of the culture stays the same. This means that the culture continues as an entity with a specific personality through time. It makes sense that this personality would have a past as well as a future.

The entity which is the culture was present in the historical examples, and therefore it is reasonable to suggest that as evidence that the culture itself has been contiguously in existence along side the others. That is to say, these cultures have all existed at least throughout recorded history.

    1. Cultural Creatives in Sumer & Egypt

In the preamble to “the first law code in recorded history,” Ur-Nammu is claimed to have “saw to it 'that the orphan did not fall prey to the wealthy, that the widow did not fall prey to the powerful, that the man of one shekel did not fall prey to the man of one mina [sixty shekels].'” [Wolkstien Kramer p118]

In ancient Egypt, the Nisut, or Pharaoh in the Greek language, Ankhenaten was a prolific social reformer of Egypt. Ankhenaten transformed the entire culture of Egypt for the period of his reign and upset the social standing of the Traditionals. Ankhenaten was the father of Tutankhamun, both of whom were likely murdered by the Vizer Aye who returned society to it's traditional structure after assuming power.

These are just two examples of the existence of Cultural Creative movements in recorded ancient history. Another example could be taken from the Radical Christianity presentation. The fellowship of people around Jesua formed a group attempting to re-vision society along the lines of commensality and connection. One could draw parallels between these early Christians and Cultural Creatives, the dominant Jewish culture and Traditionals, and finally between the occupying Romans and Moderns.

    1. Radical Christianity Presentation

“Those who are well have no need of physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy not sacrifice.' For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” The Bible Matthew 9:12-14

Jesus' answer to the conflict between cultures was commensality, which is similar to the idea of removing the hierarchy from corporations in Senge. However, both Jesus and Senge are resisted in the context of their melieu. They are resisted by those needing or wanting recognition of the self as part of their psychological satisfaction model. Both of these answers fail to recognize the region of validity for those resisting the change.

Commensality is the ablitity to eat with anyone without hierarchy and with good faith. However, there's a key concept introduced by Greg Smith of Evergreeners for Christ in the dialogue following the Radical Christianity presentation and that is the parable of the wheat and the chaff. There has to be a process which separates the wheat from the chaff, the willing from the unwilling. It is not necessarily true that people will be willing to eat with anyone. Some people will choose to exclude themselves. In Matthew 9:12-14, the point is made that it is not for those willing and able to sacrifice themselves as the cure for this conflict. The cure for this conflict is that the unwilling must become willing.

That is exactly the insoluable problem that is the project of loving the enemy. If the enemy is willing, then any conflict is mediable. However, without willingness, one must move up the continuum of conflict toward coercion by using force, violent or non-violent, or deception, such as forcing the participants to address issues linked to non-authentic interests to get to the table in the way that the Spotted Owl was used in the timber conflicts.

In this context, the project of loving the enemy is the search for commensality. This is reached by extending the invitation to others to come together without hierarchy and with good faith. This invitation does not mean leaving all your doors and windows open so that stray hoodlums have easy access. This invitation does not mean having to accept as guests those unwilling and unable to abide by good faith, without hierarchy. This invitation does not preclude being completely vulnerable to the unwilling, but it does not require it. It is the responsibility of the unwilling to progress, not the responsibility of the willing to sacrifice themselves to the exclusion of their own survival.

In class we collectively defined the Holy Spirit as a gift of God for those willing to receive it. The most blasphemous sin was defined as becoming unwilling to avoid hierarchy and drive-by debate, being “a rock ... an island.”[Simon & Garfunkel]

There is another element of this most blasphemous sin which is forsaking connection and interdependence. In the Elephant Parable, even the king doesn't really know it all although he think that he does. His amusement comes from believing that he sees the elephant more than the blind men and from watching the humorous antics of those that don't see the elephant. However, he can't see both sides of the elephant at the same time and fails to realize that the reason the courtiers on the other side of the hall are laughing is not the same reason as his own, but rather because the peasants in town painted a crude representation of the King, with his head in an uncomfortable and rather improbable place, on the elephant's far side. The king mistakenly believes he has the whole truth. Each blind man mistakenly thinks themselves to be the King, with an eye on the “real” “elephant.”

    1. Bahá'í Presentation

"In creation there is no evil, all is good. Certain qualities and natures innate in some men and apparently blameworthy are not so in reality. For example, from the beginning of his life you can see in a nursing child the signs of greed, of anger, and of temper. Then, it may be said, good and evil are innate in the reality of man, and this is contrary to the pure goodness of nature and creation. The answer to this is that greed, which is to ask for something more, is a praiseworthy quality provided that it is used suitably. So, if a man is greedy to acquire science and knowledge, or to become compassionate, generous, and just, it is most praiseworthy. If he exercises his anger and wrath against the bloodthirsty tyrants who are like ferocious beasts, it is very praiseworthy; but if he does not use these qualities in a right way, they are blameworthy.... It is the same with all the natural qualities of man, which constitute the capital of life; if they be used and displayed in an unlawful way, they become blameworthy. Therefore, it is clear that creation is purely good." Abdu'l-Bahá Some Answered Questions p. 215 (1981 ed.)

Blameworthy action are acts that have a lack of good. The most blasphemous sin is to think oneself as having privileged access to ultimate reality, to mistake oneself as the King in the Elephant Parable. It would be praiseworthy to accept responsibility for accepting invitations from others to join commensality, without hierarchy and with good faith.

The absence of good however is not evil. While it would be good to offer these invitations to others if one is willing and able, it would be blameworthy to offer them when that other presents serious danger. While it would be good to accept these invitations if one were willing and able, it would be blameworthy to accept them when either unwilling or not able. It is also blameworthy to continue to welcome the unwilling to the table and for the unwilling to overstay their welcome.

It is just as dysfunctional to creative tension to overestimate the positive effect of dialogue as it is to underestimate the destructive effect of the unwilling on the willing.

  1. "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded." - Yogi Berra

The presence of the unwilling forces the willing to enclave. If the unwilling are invited and accept the invitation to the table, then the willing must enclave somewhere else.

Selective kindness and charity, especially to those unable to reciprocate, ameliorate the effects of violence but do not address the core issue of hierarchy. They are what turn violence into abuse by addicting people in the cycle instead of addressing the hierarchy itself. True compassion addresses hierarchy but also makes one even more vulnerable to those that wish to affect and effect hierarchy.

In the case of the dynamics in learning communities, conforming early and sabotaging later is a survival technique because expressing conflict to group ideas can be seen as sabotage. The obverse is equally true, that expressing ideas that aren't aligned can be seen as providing creative, individual input. Whether one has submerged one's expectations to meet a shared vision or has simply sacrificed them in order to conform are states that are indistinguishable from each other.

A very important corollary is that it's impossible for the willing to really tell the difference between the willing-but-unable working on personal mastery and the unwilling-and-unable that just dissembles willingness in order to get a free meal. Sennett talks about two kinds of confidence: one based on privilege and another based on rigid development. [Respect p31] The unwilling-and-unable may feel they are entitled to a seat at the table and dissemble in order to get that advantage, but this is notably different from earning a seat at the table. One is blameworthy and the other is praiseworthy.

  1. Creative Tension between Cultures

    1. Manic-Depressive

Thinking systemically means not getting trapped into thinking that one variable of a system exists independently of the others. Systemic variables are interdependent in different but non-hierarchical ways.

This relates to the idea of the extreme atmosphere of obliviousness and malice that surrounds the inner willing and unwilling circles. For example, one might have a strategy that is polarized toward one end or the other, one that's a melange in the center, or a strategy that flits from one polar style to the other. On the continuum from Passive to Aggressive, this might be represented in this way:





On the continuum from Order to Chaos this might be represented in this way:





In the full Safari, these newly included Passive-Aggressive and Manic-Depressive strategies are represented by the Armadillo (Obliviousness) and the Boar (Malice) circumabulating at high speeds outside willing & unwilling circles.

    1. Systemic Granular Complexity

The goal of creative tension is not to go from hierarchy to chaos. Switching from a polarized position to a manic-depressive style is not progress. Between hierarchy and chaos there is an opportunity to develop a granular awareness of dynamic complexity. The system's natural response to chaos is to develop hierarchy. Moving from chaos to hierarchy is the move from indecision to a process that supports decision making.

While that is a functioning model, there are disadvantages such as incomplete information, overly political decisions, and a lack of balance between creativity and process.

The creative tension between chaos and hierarchy is a space characterized by a touch of both anomy and anarchy. Most people use anarchy to mean chaos, but it literally means without leaders. The word anomy means without law. The learning organization attempts to develop creativity and to collapse hierarchy, which is a creative balance between the need to make decisions and empirical and the need to be creative and holistic.

Being manic-depressive does not have this creative tension because it swings so completely from chaos to hierarchy that the creative tension is dysfunctional. Leaving hierarchy will lead to a manic-depressive swing to chaos if the system is allowed to dysfunction. In the same way that one must seize the opportunity in a conversation when space opens for dialogue, or when in mediation the facilitator must intercept and reframe client behaviour, leaving hierarchy is the space which opens the possibility to develop greater granular awareness of dynamic complexity.

Granular awareness of dynamic complexity is the ability to think, feel, and see ideas, positions, people and events as all of their elements, their parts, at the same time as seeing the whole. In addition, when sensing the parts of this thing, it is possible to see the parts in context to each other, to the whole, and to other whole systems.

  1. Conclusion

Recognizing the historicity of the cultures presented in Cultural Creatives, and the possible existence of other subcultures, is the key to recognizing the necessity for an equilibrium of these subcultures. This equilibrium, not the dominance of one subculture over the others, is what will create a sustainable future that avoids social upheavals.

Each subculture has issues and ideas attached to authentic interests and values. Creative tension between these subcultures will help create a way for these subcultures to share strategies for moving the inevitable conflict from diversity farther down the continuum of conflict.